Workshop Milan “Mining the Moon for profit”
The Space Economy Evolution Lab (SEE Lab) of the SDA Bocconi School of Management, the Secure World Foundation (SWF), and the Space Policy Institute of the George Washington University organized a Workshop entitled “Mining the Moon for Profit: A Case Study in Space Resource Utilization” that was held at Bocconi University on 11 March 2019. The workshop adopted a holistic approach to the discussion of space resources utilization on the Moon, considering scientific, technical, economic, and policy and legal factors that will influence evolution of space activities beyond Earth orbit. Considering the wide range of expertise of attendees from the space industry, financial institutions, and government institutions, the key scope of the workshop was to present the opportunities and challenges of projects that may materialize over the next ten years and beyond.
Bernhard Hufenbach, Strategy and Innovation Team Leader, Directorate of Human and Robotic Exploration at European Space Agency (ESA), opened the workshop presenting the Agency perspectives on lunar resources utilization, centred on integrating use of Space Resources into future human mission scenarios and on driving innovation for benefits in space and for Earth. He proceeded putting the emphasis on various aspects of ESA activities related to European Space Exploration Envelope Programme (E3P), and giving comprehensive overview of the lunar surface strategy. Mr Hufenbach stressed that the outcomes by 2030 should be the establishment of resource potential of polar volatiles and pyroclastic deposits, demonstration of technologies, which are the value chain for space resources, the in situ production of oxygen or water; and the establishment of ISRU as an integrated part of future mission architecture.
FIRST SESSION: State of Knowledge of Available Resources in Outer Space: Likely Types of Prospecting
The first thematic session of the conference gathered following speakers:
The session of the conference explored the state of knowledge of water resources on the Moon, discussing the possibility of water repositories for decades. They are now increasingly confident that the decades-long debate is over. The Moon, in fact, has water in all sorts of places; not just locked up in minerals, but scattered throughout the broken-up surface, and, potentially, in blocks or sheets of ice at depth, particularly at both poles. However, the existence of large quantities of water is still an uncertainty. It was clear from their discussion that the topic will necessitate further investigation.
The session gathered the following speakers:
The session brought together a diverse range of perspectives illustrating developments in space transportation systems to ferry humans and cargo to and from the Moon orbit/surface; developing the necessary technologies to enable sustainable mission scenarios, and payloads to characterize the lunar environment and exploit in situ resources. It was emerged that the discovery of water on the Moon, considered the oil of the solar system, will be a game changer for the economics of lunar resources. It is clear that this new market paradigm outline the need to set innovative technologies and potentials for economic returns. In particular, a pioneering phase to sustain market development should base on two factors: assessment demand sustainability and risk mitigation actions.
The session gathered the following speakers:
The third session explored a general SRU (in situ- resource utilization) value chain characterised by the applications, resources, and mission profiles. It presented different technical architectures for extracting, processing, storing, and transporting oxygen and hydrogen in space. Unlike terrestrial mining operations that utilize heavy machinery to move resources, the mass constraints of a lunar polar water mine are highly restrictive because of delivery cost. A key assumption of these models is that all work - construction, operation, transport, maintenance and repair - is done by robotic systems and no human presence is required.
Simonetta Di Pippo, Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), provided the audience with relevant insights to promote international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space to achieve sustainable development goals. Ms Di Pippo highlighted the role of UNOOSA as convener, capacity builder; and finally as a hub for space activities, connecting space agencies, the private sector, civil society and other parts of the UN system. She stressed the importance of space resource mining as an emerging economic activity and the need to regulate, insure, and finance these activities in adherence to international normative frameworks. In this context, UNOOSA and SDA Bocconi are working together to foster not just emerging but also foundational space economic activities. In 2019, they will start a capacity-building course dedicated to representatives from emerging space faring nations to deliver training on key elements of a successful space economy.
This session analysed the economics of Moon mining. Moon mining is a very complicated endeavour. Many high-risk factors, such as uncertainties about presence and concentration of space resources, technology readiness, relatively high initial investment requirements, and negative cash flow during the first few years, affect these projects. The SEE Lab presented economic model and defined the associated risks. They then presented an economic assessment of mining operations on the Moon based on the calculation of the net present value of the project. A probabilistic approach to evaluate the project under risk integrated this deterministic model. The analysis indicates that without the presence of three markets for propellants (low earth orbit, cislunar orbit, and lunar surface) the project is not economically sustainable. This implies that an appropriate private-public partnership (PPP) is one based on governments investing in space infrastructures to pursue scientific and exploration goals, while the private sector invests in the development of the resources decisive for the success of space agencies deep space missions.
The fifth session explored the legal and regulatory aspects of Moon mining and space resources utilization. The Outer Space Treaty does not specifically address space resource utilization. The use of resources in outer space for profit (as compared to scientific research) is not prohibited by the space treaties, leaving unanswered questions up to either national interpretation or the development of a new international legal regime for that purpose. At present, various national governments have implemented domestic law enabling space resource utilization by entities under their jurisdiction. A discussion followed on whether there is the need to further clarity and develop internationally on topics such as licensing, property or access rights and preserving the sustainability of space, all the while maintaining the treaty-based premise that space resources development can be of benefit to all countries and peoples.
The sixth session concluded the workshop with an industrial panel discussion focused on the reality of failures and successes in commercial space resources utilization. Companies involved face relatively long periods before generating revenues from space mining, which directed the discussion towards how to generate near term revenues. Panelists noted the any extractive industry business model begins with acquiring revenue from customers in a resources prospecting phase. Participants noted that apart from limited government programs (primarily in ESA and NASA) there is no proven or known customer for space resources prospecting data. This is a key challenge in early stages of the commercial SRU sector. The panel also discussed the path forward. An experienced oil and gas industry executive indicated three steps. First, ascertain society’s investment/risk appetite to develop Moon water mining. Second, focus all available resources on understanding the deposits, noting that there is a difference between products being present in a deposit versus those products being extractable as economically viable resource; and, third, sequentially define and test each and all processing technology steps.
The organizers of the Workshop gratefully acknowledge the Sponsors (Heinlein Prize and Trust, Accenture, Ernst and Young, and AVIO) for their support to the Workshop.